Afterlives of the Anti-Fascist War in the Senescence of a Decadent Social Order

The Gaza Strip has been designated as a garbage pail for the children and grandchildren of the fellahs dislocated by the wars of 1948 and 1967. It epitomizes anemic social and economic development… Except the omnipresent hum of congested transport arteries and electronic appliances—music corresponding to the life of a dilapidated social system and the bestial monotony of life under it—has been replaced. By what? The whistle of laser-guided munitions, destined to cremate a hospital and carbonize the patients.

To ring in the new year, some high-profile targets of the bombing profaned the “rules of war” every belligerent credits itself with following. On October 17, a hospital in Gaza City was hit and 500 or so were killed. On October 31 and November 1,200 were killed in a series of strikes against a refugee camp(1). On December 24, another refugee camp was hit, killing 70(2). Prior to this, 4,000 Gazan migrant workers in Israel were interned, before being released onto the killing floor of the strip. The massacre has also been transposed to the West Bank. On October 15, Reuters reported 54 dead and 1,100 wounded in the West Bank since October 7. This is a fraction of the number who have died since then. Under the gaze of the armed rackets’ policemen—who, beneath the façade of national struggle and political Islam, perform the same task in Gaza City as Jewish cops perform in East Jerusalem—the victims emerge from the rubble to count the dead.

Israel’s patrons disown the atrocities, despite arming the perpetrators. Macron says “Nothing can justify a strike against a hospital. Nothing can justify targeting civilians”(3). The hypocrisy is obvious, because any defense of Israel’s “right to self-defense” after October 7 is an affirmation-in-so-many-words of the right Israel really arrogates to itself, the right to vaporize city blocks and bomb “non-combatants”.

Macron cannot disown this, because Israel is simply aping the behavior of Macron’s forerunners. Israel abides by the same rules of engagement as those of les français libres, in the drama which forms one mythological base of the French state: la libèration. The Jewish state is taking a page out of a certain war-time playbook, belonging to the authors of the victors’ peace of 1945. Like Israel, that—in order to justify reprisals and the doctrine of collective responsibility—cynically exploits the fact the armed rackets targeted Arabs and Jews alike during their rampage on October 7, the “sons and heirs” of democratic anti-fascism exploit the deaths at Auschwitz and Treblinka of the same Jews whom the USA turned back in the 1930s, in order to justify the crimes perpetrated by the architects of the anti-fascist war—crimes no less despicable than those of the revisionist-fascist powers.

Before the great humanist Curtis LeMay quipped “we’re going to bomb [the Vietnamese] back into the stone age”, the American Air Force general and his British counterpart Arthur Harris drew up the policy of “area bombing” in WWII. The principles correspond to those LeMay enumerates in one of his proverbs, which echoes today in the remarks of the Israeli minister who says his country is at war with two million “human animals”: “There are no innocent civilians. It is their government and you are fighting a people, you are not trying to fight an armed force anymore. So it doesn't bother me so much to be killing the so-called innocent bystanders.” Under these auspices, Dresden, Hamburg, Tokyo were decimated. And to round off this tally, it is not necessary to soliloquize about Hiroshima and Nagasaki in any great detail.

But the more incidents cited, the more the point is driven home, maybe…? Of course, the territories subjected by the Allies to fire and brimstone were not only the fatherlands of the Axis countries, but the occupied countries too. Aghis Stinas, the Greek revolutionary who was, successively (and tangentially, but his story is worth publicizing…), an internee, earmarked for execution by the pro-Axis camp administration; a fugitive, whose group of anti-Stalinist CP alumni in Athens—opting for the “defeatism” of Lenin’s era in lieu of the Fourth International’s defencism—rejoiced at news of strike waves in other countries; a militant, who, with the same enthusiasm as he received news of class struggle abroad, joined in on the looting of food caches, freely distributing to the inhabitants of a starving city materiel otherwise allocated to the Stalinists’ partisan war; and, consequently, a wanted man, hunted by the ringmasters of the partisan war, the Stalinists whom Stinas identified as a state-within-a-state (not unlike Hamas or other “liberation” rackets…); he, Stinas, recounts the onslaught of the Allied air forces, the one that befell Greece as Germany and Japan:

The Allies bombed as bestially as the Germans in their time, with even more fury. The American airmen were particularly resolute. Their objective was the working class neighborhoods. We knew them here too, with the bombardment of Piraeus [a major port city near Athens], when the mortuaries filled up with dead and the hospitals with wounded. Here also it was almost all women, children and old people(4).

Modern war is total war. As LeMay says, belligerents are at war with millions more people than are in foxholes on the frontlines. The directive of the Allied air command to “focus attacks on the morale of the enemy civil population[,] and in particular the industrial workers…”(5) is totally consonant with the rules of engagement as they were elaborated in the “just”, imperialist war of 1939-45… As are Israeli directives to devastate the “human animals” in Gaza. And in the October 7 culling of 1,300 Jews, Bedouin Arabs, Thai Migrant workers, so on—the ones whom Hamas and their surreptitious supporters pass off as “settlers”—the autocratic, terrorist enemy simply demonstrated it, too, was another disciple of the Allied air command, to whom Israeli war planners must look as great teachers vis-à-vis the ongoing siege of Gaza.

So an Israeli official says it would be a good thing to create a famine in Gaza? A famine, maybe like the Bengal famine of 1943, induced by the need to allocate grain to the war against an overriding, illiberal evil? An evil yesterday known as fascism, today as the “Islamofascism” that menaces the sole outpost of democracy in the Middle East? An evil that is, moreover, abetted by the authoritarian, “revisionist”, anti-democratic powers, among whom we principally count Russia and China?

The picture is coming into focus. Now as then, a certain paradigm accompanies preparations for a general war by the USA and the lesser powers in its orbit, one that prefigures suppression of class divergences for the duration of the military emergency: a Union Sacrée, or, in English, a “Sacred Union”. October 7 attests to “our” adversaries’ immorality, and is depicted as one more link in the chain of their geopolitical designs. Obversely, it is a clarion call against, as the Secretary of State says, the “revisionist powers”(6).

The failure of Operation Prosperity Guardian to deter Houthi attacks on shipping lanes, plus the general decrepitude of an army strung too thin? To prepare for the next confrontation, it is necessary to reverse this decline, to build more ships and expand the domestic industrial base as the gears of rearmament creak into motion. Reconcile the workers to preparations for the Third World War; rally them to US imperialism, under the guise of curbing wealth inequality or ecological transition; attain peace at home, by laying the foundations of a Sacred Union. And if the Israelis got a green light to flatten Gaza, is there so much wrong with the Atlantic Council’s proposal to defeat an amphibious invasion of Taiwan with low-yield nuclear weapons?

As before, mobilization for a general war against the revisionist countries does not only hang on parochial nationalism, but on an enemy whose ideology poses an existential threat to the foundations of “our” civilization. True, historical analogies are unwieldy; however, the cache of pretexts for modern war is at least as shallow as comparisons to the last global slaughter are unwieldy. So, as Israeli ministers’ remarks are reproduced in newspapers and on the internet, it feels as if General LeMay has been resurrected and is speaking to us. He is not firing Hamburg, Dresden, or Tokyo, but the cardinal principle of disregard for “the so-called innocent bystanders” is applied equally to the surplus proletarians of Gaza.

Do not underestimate how penetrating General LeMay’s insight is. The real insight, only alluded to above: Gone is the epoch of pitched battles, in picturesque surrounds reconnoitered by men in epaulets and gold lace. In the epoch of imperialism and state-capitalism, the point is to destroy capital; specifically, as much of the enemy’s constant (plant, equipment, machinery…) and variable (workers…) capital as possible. Since the beginning of the 20th century, it has actually become imperative if capitalism is to overcome crises of valorization and catalyze new cycles of accumulation. Partially comprising the process of overcoming these crises, destruction of noxious or superfluous capital values and members of the reserve army (in Gaza, people) in a conflict that combines states’ management of surplus proletarians’ population with inter-imperialist maneuvers (Israel-Hamas war) complies perfectly with the “rules of war”, just as Israeli leaders insist it does. And as one piece of the puzzle of inter-imperialist maneuvers, this latest episode of modern war is adorned with the same narratives that yesterday acquitted the democratic imperialisms of all crimes during the anti-fascist war. Between Hamburg and Tokyo, Hiroshima and the Holocaust, it was the first really modern war.

On display are the afterlives of that war, in the senescence of a decadent social order.

Internationalist Workers' Group
December 26 2023


Image: Bundesarchiv (CC-BY-SA 3.0),

(1) Stephen Farrell et al., “No place of refuge: Israeli strikes hit Gaza refugee camps”, Reuters, November 3, 2023.

(2) “Israeli air strike kills at least 70 Palestinians in central Gaza refugee camp, health officials say”, Reuters, December 24, 2023.

(3) “Outrage and condemnation after deadly Gaza hospital strike”, France24, October 18, 2023.

(4) Stinas, Aghis, Revolutionary Defeatists in Greece in World War II: Some introductory texts and selected highlights from: Memoirs – Sixty Years under the Flag of Socialist Revolution, trans. George Gordon, 2004, 94.

(5) Harris, Arthur Travers; Cox, Sebastian, Despatch on War Operations: 23rd February, 1942, to 8th May, 1945, Routledge, 1995.

(6) Blinken, Anthony J., “The Power and Purpose of American Diplomacy in a New Era”, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), September 13, 2023.

Friday, January 5, 2024